Entries in neurosis (7)


A World of Writers

Sometimes I’m a little scared by how many writers there are in the world. And I’m not talking about successful writers either: they’re scary in a completely different way. I’m scared by the number of writers who are like me: writers who work around a day job and long to have more to their publication record than the occasional poem in a niche magazine.

Let me put this in context. You may remember how dubious I was about becoming a Twitter user when I rediscovered my account a few months ago. Well, unsurprisingly, I’m a total addict now: a story for a different post, perhaps. The point is that I follow quite a lot of writers. In fact, most of the people I follow are writers. Which is what scares me.

I’m quite competitive about work, so when I read that someone is working really hard on a writing project, it pushes me forward and makes me want to work harder on my own projects. It’s a very good thing for me and my wavering motivation. And it’s not that I’m resentful of the other writers. The problem is that I’m very pessimistic about the proportion of us that can become successful. Sometimes when I read something about how much a writer just wants to be able to write full time; about the submissions people are making and the competitions they’re entering, I’m struck by just how many of us want to be Writers: writers who get paid for what they do; writers whose work is read.

I don’t know what the statistics are for this kind of thing, but I do know that it’s highly unlikely that many of us will ever be able to make a living from our writing. And while I love the network of writers that I’m able to connect with through Twitter, I find this very disconcerting.

Image by OrbiliusMagister


Do not Open except in Case of Emergency

I always keep tinned peaches in the cupboard in case there’s a siege. I said this out loud for the first time the other day. Which is when I realised it’s probably a bit nuts.

If there’s some kind of disaster that means we have to stay indoors for a month, it’s probably not going to have anything to do with a siege. It’s also probably going to be much more difficult than anything that can be solved by a couple of tins of peaches. But there’s something about the idea of a siege that speaks to my inner romantic. Just think: you don’t have to go anywhere! No work. No shopping. No standing in bank queues. There’ll be candles probably, and days spent huddled by the windows wondering what’s going on in the outside world. You’ll eat your way through your stash of canned peaches and mandarins, and make bizarre concoctions from chickpeas and coconut milk.

Of course there’s a more logical part of my head that knows that a siege (or indeed any more likely disaster) wouldn’t really be cosy and romantic. But Logical Me knows that it’s good to keep some canned food around in case of emergency.

Why though – and I’d never considered this question until I happened to mention the peaches the other day – do I insist on keeping food that we’d never eat under normal circumstances? Maybe I think it’s the one sure way we’ll have food left for a siege: make sure we’ve got some stuff we’ve no ordinary use for and then we’ll never run out!

And so in the back of my cupboard I have tinned peaches and a large bag of muesli, mixed beans and some canned rice pudding... because you just never know.

Image by Larra Jungle Princess


Good to Talk

A friend and I were talking the other day about how we’re both considerably worse at keeping in touch with people than we imagined we would be. She and I were very close friends as teenagers and would spend far more time on the phone to each other than is rational for two people who have just spent the day together. Yet now we both find ourselves shying away from phone calls. Phone calls, for us, have become a way of arranging things or finding each other when we’ve failed to meet where we should have. Gone are the days when we would ring friends for long chats with no particular purpose other than the joy of the conversation itself.

This is something I’ve been conscious of in myself for a while. Finding she’d experienced the same thing made me feel a little better about it. Somewhere along the line I became reluctant to ring friends I know I’d have a wonderful conversation with, and now that I’ve been so bad at it for so long, it’s hard to start up again.

My friend’s theory on this is that it’s due to the communication technologies available to us now. In the days of our endless phone calls, the telephone was the only sensible way to speak to someone. Now, between instant messaging, social networking and email, the possibilities are endless… and often take much less commitment than a phone call. An email or a facebook message is generally my first port of call if I want to get in touch with someone now. I can choose when I send it and how much time it’s going to take. I can choose not to reply straight away if I’m busy with something else. And I don’t have to plan for an hour or two be factored into my evening.

But however reluctant I am to have them, I do miss phone calls. I have a few friends who are marginally better at this side of things than I am and call occasionally; when they do, I always love our chats. But the thought of ringing one of them can be daunting. I do not have the time for the hours of conversation I enjoyed as a teenager and I seem to have developed a strange lack of confidence about phoning people. It doesn’t matter how close a friend it is, a little part of me will always worry that they don’t actually want to speak to me. Sometimes I won’t have seen them for months and a part of me will need reassurance that I’m still important to them. I’m quite aware that this is an irrational paranoia. But that’s not helpful.

This anti-phone thing I’ve developed is, on the one hand, quite annoying. But on the other, it’s an interesting phenomenon, due largely (I think) to the types of communication available to us in the modern world. Sometimes it seems that the more ways there are to keep in touch, the more distant we become.

Image by Holger Ellgaard


Blogger’s Anxiety

Those of you who are subscribed, might have noticed a post pop up here earlier this evening. It was one of those posts that you decide against for whatever reason but then end up heaving out again when you’re struggling for content. Then you realise that you didn’t post it because it was really boring… generally that happens before you decide to post it, but apparently not today.

The truth is, I’m struggling a little at the moment. I’m suffering from bout of Blogger’s Anxiety: why do I write a blog? Why do I think anything I have to say is important? Why am I putting so much of myself out online? How am I expecting people to react? Who is my audience? Shouldn’t I be working on something else? What is the future of blogging?

You get the picture.

This makes it very difficult to write a post. Over the last few days, I have almost-posted several times: once about garden gnomes; once with a grand commitment to learn something new every day and share it with you all; once with a reply from fifteen year old me to that letter I wrote and today with a terribly boring account of a meal in a restaurant, which hopefully you were lucky enough not to see.

Does this happen to everyone?

I’m prone to this kind of sudden and intense doubt in real life, so I’m inclined to think it’s just me. But maybe Blogger’s Anxiety is an affliction we all suffer from occasionally. Maybe it’s like pre-wedding jitters or the baby blues: just something that goes with the territory.

At least I can always post a blog about how I can’t blog. Which is much the same way that I deal with not being able to write. It provides a perverse sense of satisfaction.


A Letter

Dear Jenny,

The future you is not as eloquent as Stephen Fry, so your letter will not be as impressive. On the other hand, you are not as miserable as the past Stephen Fry, so you don’t need a letter on quite the same scale.

You are fifteen years old and caught between two friendship groups. You think you need to choose; you think everyone will hate you if you make the wrong choice. Some of them may do. But it doesn’t matter as much as you think, and you need to remember all the friends you have that do not – like you – fit into either camp. There isn’t a right answer and you won’t ever have to choose. It will just happen. These things are natural.

That you worry about these things comes from your neurosis. This isn’t something that will go away, but it is something you will learn to deal with. I know that now you feel that you can’t please everybody. And I can’t tell you that you will never stop trying. But you will learn to recognise your own place in things. You will learn that you matter and you will learn that you cannot be passive. You will never like it, but living with it will not hurt you.

You are not the only person in the world to have ever felt like no one understands you. You are beginning to know that now. When you fully realise this, you will be better equipped to understand other people. This will make you a little more aware of why you are caught between your friends and it will make you a little more understanding of your family. If you were not frozen in time, I would tell you that one day you will totally understand their point of view, and that being the case, you should try to be a little less obnoxious. But you can’t change that now.

You are aware of it a little already, but you should especially take notice of the ecstasies of being a teenager. Adolescence is rather like a heightened state of normal, adult life. Your lows won’t ever be as low again and your highs will rarely be as high (though I will not say never and you should be careful to catch the highs when they’re offered to you). The roller coaster of emotions you feel right now is something you won’t want to experience again but it is something you will recognise the value in (you become quite good at that). There is a part of you even now that is fond of the lows. You are faintly aware of the melodrama you and your friends create. You should enjoy it. Melodrama becomes more awkward as you get older… but don’t worry: you will become the sort of adult who writes letters to her old self before she is even thirty. You won’t completely lose the melodrama!

One day, you will take enormous pleasure in re-reading the diaries you so diligently write and remember the soap opera of school life and the gorgeous flutters of every crush that grows in your stomach. I don’t mean that to sound patronising: all of this is important to who you will become… but you are not that person yet. Be patient.

My advice? Don’t be too quick to grow up. There are times when the adult you longs to be at home again: take more pleasure in what you have now. You will grow up in the end. You will grow into a quietly confident person, able to balance the two totally contradictory sides of her personality (that’s calm and neurotic if you haven’t figured it out already). And you will be happy.

But there’s no reason to rush into that now, is there?

*Inspired by Stephen Fry’s letter to himself: Dearest Absurd Child

Image by Ian Britton